A Policeman’s Lot 9…. The Great Flying Gateaux Saga.

Friday and Saturday nights were always the two busiest nights of the week. On these nights the West End of London would be packed with visitors looking to enjoy themselves. If the weekend also happened to coincide with the FA Cup final which was always played at Wembley then the local police could expect to be very busy indeed…..The heady mix of sporting excitement brought about by eager anticipation and hope….All fuelled by an excessive intake of alcohol was guaranteed to stir the imagination of any self respecting and hugely partisan football fan.

Wembley in those days had a capacity of 100,000….But far more that number would flock to London for their special day…..Some would hope to pick up a ticket from one of the many ticket touts that would try and make a killing by selling tickets, some legal but many counterfeit…..Even if the fans couldn’t get hold of a ticket then many supporters just wanted to be London for the big the day….They felt a desperate need to share the excitement with other fans….This meant that the pubs in the West End were always packed and doing a roaring trade

This particular cup final was on Saturday May 1st 1976. The two finalists were Manchester United and Southampton and their fans came flooding into Soho on Friday night. Of course, the respective fans were intent on having a good time and drinking as much as they possibly could…..And then drinking some more.

The police knew from bitter experience what to expect and the West End was flooded with a huge number of officers whose job was to “Keep the Queen’s Peace”.

I was on patrolling in Soho, it was about 9.30pm….The general mood was good, even cheerful….The vast majority of supporters were happy and just wanted to drink beer and soak up the excitement….In most locations the two groups of supporters would happily mix together….But of course there were inevitably a few who would go just a little bit too far.

A call come over the radio that there was a disturbance by fans inside the Charing Cross Road Wimpy Bar…..Now for English people of a certain age the words “Wimpy Bar” conjures up fond memories of a pre Macdonald’s era of hamburgers, ‘Bender’ sausages, ice cream sundaes, knickerbocker glories and the highlight and ‘piece de resistance’….The always magnificent, cake and dessert trolley…..I arrived at the same time as a few other officers and with the reassuring sound of approaching two tone sirens in the distance, we ventured inside.

There was no obvious sign of a major disturbance….Though the place was packed. The fans were full of drink and noisy….but there was no obvious signs of violence…..We located the manager and it seemed as if he had realised the place was too crowded and tried to shut the doors but some fans pushed past him….He wanted them out!…..We decided to employ the police officer’s best weapon at times like this; “Tact and Good Humour.” We advised the unwelcome late comers to leave without fuss….They were indignant “We ain’t done nuffink wrong, ‘Ave we?…. Why should we go?” …..A newly arrived inspector took charge of the delicate negotiations (never a good thing in my experience.)

I really have no idea who pushed who first, or for that matter who threw the first punch…..But suddenly the whole place was a melee of fighting football fans and coppers….That was bad enough….But suddenly someone decided that the dessert trolley needed to be brought into action….Suddenly the air was thick with flying chocolate cakes and slices of cream gateaux…..Anyone who can remember the fight scene from Bugsy Malone will have an excellent idea of what the place looked like…..Of course, that much fresh cream being liberally distributed around the restaurant made the floor treacherously slippery and soon the restaurant resembled a battlefield on an ice rink…..I seem to recall that the inspector was an early casualty and his face and uniform were covered in cream, chocolate and tiramisu….And you could just tell he was far from happy!

There were now several police vans outside and officers (at least those who could stand up) were ferrying prisoners from restaurant to vans….I separated two battling fans (one of each team, to preserve fairness) and marched them towards the front door and into the van) When the vans were full of coppers and prisoners they headed across Soho to West End End Central Police Station…..Now, in my defence, I was still quite young in service, and unwise to the ways of certain, more experienced officers….You see, all the fun is in dealing with disturbances such as the one at the Wimpy restaurant….But nobody really wants to be involved in sorting out the ensuing mess…..There I was, standing in the charge room with about ten (by now fairly peaceful) prisoners….The charging sergeant said to me “Are these all yours then, mate?”

“Er, no sarge, these two are mine….”I’m sure the other officers are on their way back.”…..But the sergeant looked doubtful.

It soon became glaringly obvious that the prisoners had been dumped in the vans and the ‘arresting’ officers decided that they had more pressing calls on their time!

It’s at times like this when a good sergeant earns his pay….”Right Gents….Listen Up! You’ve all had your bit of fun for tonight….But I can see from the state of you all that it’s all got a bit out of hand, hasn’t it? So this is what we are going to do….You are all charged with being drunk and disorderly….Now, you all want to go to the game tomorrow and since there has been no major damage or injury caused we should be able to get all this sorted reasonably quickly. That will get you out in plenty of time to get to Wembley…..Anyone who DOES NOT behave themselves may well find themselves missing the match….Am I making myself clear?….I want you all to to give this officer your details and the information he requires and we will get you out of here as soon as possible.”

That speech brought about a general sobering up of the prisoners who were now only too keen to expedite our enquiries….I sat my two prisoners together (they now seemed to be firm friends, actually) and the sergeant and I went round the remainder. “Who were you fighting with, Mate?”

“I was fighting that bloke over there”

“Is that correct?”

“Yes officer….But it weren’t nothing personal, you know?”

Within a couple of minutes we had the sparring couples matched up and I had all the information I needed to write my arrest reports …..The necessary checks and enquiries were made and the charging sergeant announced that they would all be bailed to appear at Marlborough Street Court the following morning….Shortly after 1am on Cup Final morning we bailed the last of the warring supporters.

I heard no more about the matter which means that our drunk and disorderly football supporters must all have made their way to court next morning, admitted their misdemeanours and accepted their punishments.

I did hear that one person who was not happy was the manager of the Wimpy Restaurant who had a considerable mess to clean up…. But that was all part and parcel of working in the West End on Cup Final weekend.

And I certainly learnt a valuable lesson from the incident….When you travel in a van with another officer’s prisoner….ALWAYS make sure you know which officer has arrested that prisoner!

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  1. I have never understood the need for fisticuffs between opposing team sport fans. The poor wimpy owner lost a lot of money that night! Part of bail condition should have been to go help clean up the joint every night for at least a week. Lucky you did not take a punch. I’m enjoying your cop stories. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Elm, I’m delighted that you are enjoying the series….I understand what you say about the almost tribal nature of some fans, particularly when it comes to soccer….And perhaps the judiciary should hand out more sentences where they can “Make the punishment fit the crime”.
      But that particular night stands out in my memory because the sheer slapstick comedy of the battle zone….It still reminds me of what I imagine a film studio set to be….All the actors in their place….The director shouts “ACTION” and the custard pies start flying!

      My time at West End Central will come to an abrupt and unexpected end in the next episode….But as always….One door closes and another one opens…..I hope you will enjoy the future instalments and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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